2005 A Year To Remember

Twenty years from now when the topic of Australia’s football history is discussed by fans, when it comes to the defining year where it all turned around, 2005 is likely to be the year everyone talks about.

Twenty years from now when the topic of Australia-s football history is discussed by fans, when it comes to the defining year where it all turned around, 2005 is likely to be the year everyone talks about. Not just because of the events of Wednesday-s magnificent night, but as Football Federation Australia chief executive Mr John O-Neill (pictured right) said the day after, it was the icing cake on the cake in terms of strategic objectives reached.

“I think 2005 will go down as a year to remember,” said Mr O-Neill, with FFA Chairman Mr Frank Lowy sitting alongside him at a packed media conference at the Australian Museum.

“Frank and I have taken a few risks in the past 18 months but they have been calculated to achieve the trifecta for this year,” he added.

“That was qualify for the World Cup - mission accomplished last night. To launch the Hyundai A-League successfully - that-s well on its way - and the most important strategic move in the history of this game (in Australia), is our integration of Asia next year.

“Those three achievements will secure the long term future and viability of this game in Australia.”

The return of Mr Lowy to an official capacity within the game after many years wilderness, has turned the fortunes of the game around in Australia.

“My ambition always was since I took the job over was to raise the level of football to the level of the Olympic movement in Australia,” said a proud Mr Lowy. ”We been in the shadows for too long and there is no greater game than football.

“We could see that the whole of the country was behind us. Its euphoria.

“It-s a pleasure and a honour to be working for the cause of football, soccer, in Australia and the achievements of last night - the result speaks for itself.

“We-ve won and will be participating in a World Cup after 32 years in Germany and what an honour it will be.”

However Mr Lowy was also quick to point out that qualifying is not the answer to all the problems of the past and that he and board and the FFA management team will be working just as hard to keep the game moving forward.

“It-s wonderful to win; it-s a huge boost for us to move forward.

“While we are euphoric about this result and will now prepare ourselves to go to Germany, we have a huge job in front of us. The job of putting football on the map as it should be, is not over, its just starting. We have a plan and a very serious plan, that-s our job.

“We are ready, willing and able to make this game a top game, one of the top football games in Australia and to be able to compete with the rest of the world, well above our current standard.”

Qualification is likely to see many thousands of Australians travel to Germany next June and July, for what will be the biggest sporting of the year.

“It would be nice to see the gold colour,” said Mr Lowy, when asked if he would like to see an Aussie invasion of Germany.

Mr O-Neill confirmed that Guus Hiddink would be staying on as the coach of the team until the conclusion of the World Cup (July 9).

“He had two contracts and the second one is now in full operation. He had one contract which wa sup until the 16th November and if we hadn-t achieved victory last night, it would have been at an end.

“There was a second contract that came into force as of midnight last night.”

While qualifying for the World Cup finals will inject some much needed revenue into the sport, Mr O-Neill said the benefits go way beyond financial.

“Come 2006, the important thing is we are not going to out of the newspapers next year. The biggest event next year is the FIFA World Cup and we-ve struggled for column inches, we-ve struggled to get match program together, we have to play friendlies or we are playing in Oceania.

“Come the 9th of June next year, there is the event called the FIFA World Cup and we are in it. The lead up to that will be substantial. We-ll have a fantastic match schedule, we will play Asia Cup qualification, once the draw is done (9th December), I-m told you need to be there, because once you know who you have to play, you start organising games. We are already down the track on that.”

Asked how important making the World Cup was, Mr O-Neill had no doubts.   “It-s a defining moment. It really does make us and end-to-end sport.

“We have got a participation level that is the envy of the other sports, 1.2 million participants playing the game, we-ve got an A-League now that looks the goods and now we have got a national team that is playing at the highest level.

“We are a very serious player now in mainstream sport and I really think our positioning, visibly to the other football codes has been substantially enhanced.”

For Mr O-Neill, who was at the forefront of rugby taking off in Australia and had witnessed many a big game in his tenure at the helm of Australian Rugby, the night was special.

“It was an enormously emotional night last night. Never, in my career in sport, have I ever experienced anything like it.

“It-s was quite a defining moment for this sport to see 82,500 thousand people, all in gold, cheering the way did. The national anthem was belted out in an unimaginable way.

“The home ground advantage was really significant last night.

But he saved his biggest tribute to the players.

“I have been lucky to be involved with a number of great teams and there is a particular aspect that defines great teams and its that word composure.

“Both in Montevideo and last night we saw composure, courage and a trust in themselves and each other. Its quite subtle, but it-s a difference between winning and losing.

“Those blokes went from the Confederations Cup where they ran basically last, to beating Uruguay in a matter of five months. They (the players) are the heroes.”